Event review: New Age Music? Or Something Else?

Text by Bill McKormick

On 12/21/12, the Mayan calendar came to an end. Many people thought the world would end on that day (and some made a pile of money from that fear). Some new age adherents interpreted the event (which was based on an actual astronomical phenomenon: the ancient Mayans were very good with observational astronomy) as signaling a shift in human consciousness; the beginning of an apotheosis.

In New York City, at the Hotel Pennsylvania, the Meta Center of New York, and New Life magazine and expo joined forces to present an event to celebrate this. They featured several people who offered a variety of presentations revolving around this theme / event.

However, there was, as I understand it, a last minute addition to the program. This was an impromptu duet between new age musician David Young, and multi-instrumentalist, iconoclast Dawoud.

David Young is well known in the new age circuit. He has produced dozens of recordings, sold over a million of them, and performs regularly at new age gatherings of all descriptions. His music is regularly played as background music in spas and massage centers, and has a well deserved reputation for its relaxing, calming effects. Young has also authored a self-help book that uses autobiographical anecdotes to illustrate spiritual principles.



Dawoud, the mysterious New York City based musician known mainly for his unusual use of the sitar, joined Young as a guest soloist. Young performed on a variety of amplified recorders played against backing tracks played on an ipod. Dawoud accompanied him on dilruba (a bowed string instrument from India), mostly playing harmonies and understated melodies behind Young; occasionally taking a solo here and there.

Young’s music was perfectly suited for the pre-beginning of the event; calming and sedate. It was enjoyable without making demands upon the listener. But Dawoud’s presence caused one to pause and wonder what was really happening.

This is not to say that Dawoud played anything that didn’t fit perfectly with the music (and I learned later that he had no rehearsals, no charts to read from, and hadn’t heard a note of Young’s music before he actually stepped on stage to perform with him. He simply went on cold and did it. Not that this was difficult; but many people were impressed). Apart from brief bursts of impassioned playing in his solos, he played nothing that clashed with Young’s music. And that was the point. Anyone who knows Dawoud’s music knows it to be peaceful; yet containing a fire and intensity that new age audiences would find uncomfortable. Often, this intensity is not something one could specifically identify; as if there were several musical subtexts going on under one’s nose.

It was rumored that Dawoud had composed a piece of music for the event, but never got the opportunity to perform it. This was supposed to be a symbolic musical recreation of the end of the Mayan calendar; a translation of these energies to musical form. I asked Dawoud about this, and he told me that he was originally scheduled to perform this in Mexico, at a festival / gathering at the Mayan ruins. Unfortunately, financial shortages prevented the festival organizers from flying him to Mexico. So, both plans failed to materialize. Dawoud promised to record the piece, and to offer it to his audience as a free download (he didn’t seem worried about copyrights or publishing, because, according to him, nobody can steal it because it is impossible for anyone but him to play it).

He then made some cryptic remark about this being a blessing in disguise because, in his words, “I found an error in my calculations.” What this means is anybody’s guess.  Dawoud’s explanations about the music were incomprehensible.

Dawoud had made several recent performances; from concerts with his group (where he concentrated on sitar) to solo performances with dilruba played against backing tracks. His music can bring you to peace, put you into a trance and case visions, stimulate orgasmic passions, or disassemble you molecule by molecule, like a malfunctioning Star Trek transporter. And often, it’s impossible to know which is which.

At this point, it’s hard to know what to expect from Dawoud. He leaves one with the impression of someone who is using his music to set up the audience for an elaborate practical joke – or something with more serious consequences. Like a modern day Don Juan (from Carlos Castenada’s writings) who takes the listener through an elaborate labyrinth of psychological and spiritual ordeals, and, after emerging from a hellish experience, the initiate is transformed.

One can not help but wonder what the hell Dawoud is really up to; especially after practically forcing his music on people clearly unprepared to deal with it (and even without their being aware of what he’s doing). Is he a real “visionary musician,” a trickster “Renegade Sufi”, or someone capable of dangerous stunts that pose a threat to individual sanity and the fabric of society itself? It is as if Depak Chopra led his followers into a chamber, locked the door, and removed his mask to reveal himself to actually be Aleister Crowley.